Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Faith in the Bolt

Marquette, Michigan

We are running down the road and suddenly a tremendous scraping noise comes from under the RV. I pull off and see the seven-foot steel generator exhaust pipe on the road. It's still attached on one end by a strap secured by two rusty half-inch bolts. I pull out a deep 1/2 inch socket and try to undo the attached end. Both bolts are rusted and corroded from the heat. One comes off and the other bolt snaps. I remember Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I'm really mortified about the snapped bolt. I put the pipe in the RV.

Later I examine the exhaust pipe and see the problem. A U-bolt was not tightened adequately when the exhaust pipe was installed at the factory. The U-bolt was intended to secure the exhaust pipe to the generator. Perhaps big jet airplanes have better quality control. I hope they do, but my doubts reappear on takeoff.

We crapped out on the things we hoped for in this area. The fishing trip with "Uncle Ducky" in search of 60 pound lake trout was $550 rather than the $80-$175 that I usually pay.

We went into Munising to talk to dive Captain Lindquist (who I have visualized as a cross between Lloyd Bridges and the crusty Captain of Jaws I) and find out that the next dive trip is not until July 5th.

We go on Captain Lindquist's glass bottom boat to see ancient shipwrecks and I suddenly realize that all the dive sites for the shipwrecks are in 15-30 feet of rocky 55 degree water. I begin to visualize another trip to Puerto Rico for a 125-foot wall dive in warm water or a week on a Carribean live-aboard. There are over 6,000 documented shipwrecks and 30,000 lost souls in the Great Lakes. One of the shipwrecks is over 200 years old. It's an unidentified French boat that must have appeared to be something like a giant Cheerios box. Not really sea-worthy when the skies of November turn gloomy.

The guy who runs our RV park here appears to be crazy as a shit house rat. He talks really fast about obscure civil engineering topics. When I attempt to enter the conversation he ignores me. Finally I give up. Whenever I see him he has a shovel or chainsaw. He has built maybe 300 camping spaces here and so far has between one and three guests.

We had a nice lunch today in Marquette after I re secured the exhaust pipe. I had a portabello sandwich and Mrs. Phred had California sushi rolls. We each had two glasses of Reisling. In the background is another huge abandoned iron ore dock.

I'm totally puzzled by this old gas pump. It could be they have it set for $.459 and just multiply by ten and ignore the fact the the pump only goes to $99.99 dollars. Or maybe the rate is $1.459. Either way the dollars on the pump makes no sense. It's a mystery without any clues.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The Ontonagon River Canoe Trip

Porcupine Mountains State Park, Michigan

Our campsite in the State Park is on the shore of Lake Superior. There are a lot of biting black flies here to go with the view. The only canoe trip available is 15 miles on the Ontonagon River. The river doesn’t have any current flow to help things along.

Our guy drops us off in a remote area. He has tried to warn us off, explaining that there are eight hours of determined paddling needed to get to the end of the trip. We tell him about much longer paddles in the Everglades. We trade stories about drunken Chicago cops. The same group of 50 that went diving with us in the Bahamas also came up here and pulled in about midnight..

We launch and the flies buzz around our heads as we paddle. Mrs. Phred has a mosquito hat. It helps.

The river is pristine. It’s never been logged and the banks are covered with lush ferns and summer grass. We see dozens of bald eagles and a beaver dive into the river next to the canoe.

There are lots of shallow rocky places where I have to get out and push.

After 10 hours we pull into the marina in Ontonagon, Michigan. We’ve stopped a couple of times. Once I strip off all my clothing at a sand bar and go swimming. Mrs. Phred takes several full frontal shots. I have chosen not to publish these.

After 11 miles, a fisherman offers tow us the for last four miles. Mrs. Phred whispered, “Yes!”, but I felt that it would ruin the story so we doggedly paddled the last four miles. We both have minor muscle aches in our arms today.

Today we moved east to Marquette, Michigan on Lake Superior. They have diving here on old three-masted schooner shipwrecks, fishing for 70 pound lake trout and more canoeing. We may stay awhile and recreate.

Monday, 23 June 2008

On the Shore of Gitche Gumee

The Apostle Islands National Seashore
Ashland, Wisconsin

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.

They used to make you memorize the poem about the noble Hiawatha and Nokomis back in the 4th grade. I wonder if they still do that? We’re camped in our metal wigwam on the shore of Lake Superior. By surface area, it is the largest lake in the world, although two Russian lakes are deeper and contain more water.

The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.
- Gordon Lightfoot

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald went down in 1975. The notion that the lake never gives up it’s dead probably derives from the fact that the average water temperature is 36 defrees F., cold enough to inhibit the bacterial growth that makes bodies float..

We drove up to the Lake of the Woods area in Ontario yesterday. We saw a number of beaver lodges on the drive. I had to lock up the brakes on the Toyota to avoid a doe and her fawn.

We ate lunch in Green’s Roadhouse near Nestor Falls. We had pickerel for an appetizer. Pickerel are a little (3-5 pound) pike. They are hard to clean. You have to cut them into small strips to avoid the bones. They are not considered very good to eat, but these chunks were breaded, fried and not bad.

The roadhouse was constructed of logs. The door jams were about 5 feet, 6 inches so we think it’s been around awhile. We had pierogi for a main course. These were pastries stuffed with cheese and potatoes and covered with bacon and sautéed onions.

Pierogi (also perogi, perogy, pirohi, piroghi, pirogi, pirogen, piroshke or pyrohy), is the name most commonly used in English speaking areas to refer to a variety of Slavic semicircular stuffed dumplings of unleavened dough and varying ingredients.

I bought an Ontario fishing license that’s good for a year. Going though immigration and customs is always a hoot these days. We'll make our way along the south shore of Superior and across Ontario and Quebec from here.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Even a Blind Pig Sometimes Finds a Truffle

International Falls, Minesota
Voyageur National Park, Minnesota/Ontario Border

We drove across the Mississippi River yesterday. It was very small here on the Canadian border, almost a stream. It’s interesting to think that one could start here and canoe down to New Orleans. Someday, I’d like to do a long canoe trip. The Yukon and the Mackenzie have always been appealing.

I’ve discovered damselflies. They seem to be attached to the RV in great numbers. They are an order of the order Odaonata, which also includes dragonflies. Apparently there are 5,000 known members of the order. I had no idea that dragonflies had so many close relatives. This is a beautiful land of lakes and deciduous and evergreen forests. The rocks are part of the 2.5 billion year old "Canadian shield": hard granite rubbed low and round by millions of tons and eons of glaciers.

The news coming out of British Columbia on the west coast is very strange. Feet clad in running shoes have been washing up on the beach. So far there are five right feet and one left foot. The left foot doesn’t match any of the right feet. The femurs seen to have been severed by a power tool.

We had a National Park boat trip lined up today. It was 20 miles though forest islands to the Kettle Falls Hotel. There was a two hour break for lunch at the old hotel, twenty miles from the nearest road. I took a 1,510 page copy of Norman Mailer’s “Harlot’s Ghost” with me and made a little progress on it after lunch. Mrs. Phred had a hardcover Tony Hillerman’s: “Talking God”. I read “Harlot’s Ghost” when it came out in 1991, but my advanced age permits me to re-enjoy a good book with no recollection after a few years pass.

The Voyageurs used to hump nearly two tons of beaver pelts in big canoes from the northwest over this natural string of lakes and rivers that extends from here and far westward though the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.. The park sets aside 56 miles of the old waterway that marks the border between Canada and the US. The treaty of 1783, at the end of the Revolutionary War, treated this water communications highway as a natural dividing line between the two countries.

The boat ride up and back was guided by a young bearded .ranger. I think his name was Brendan or something else that sounds Irish and starts with a “B”. He did a great job, pointing out bald eagles, double breasted cormorants, white pelicans and loons.

Strangely, white pelicans don’t dive into the water after fish like the brown ones in Florida. They lack air shock absorbers under the skin so they get in a line of twenty or more and chase the fish up onto the beach. I really like this pictute of Mrs. Phred. I think I said something funny just before the picture. It looks just like a picture of her with her sister at age two. The eyes never change.

There is a lot of bootlegger history up here on the border. I used to drive past the windowless “Blind Pig” bar in Tampa’s inner city frequently and wonder what was inside. I learn that it’s a bootlegger term. You leave the booze on an island. The customer arrives later and removes the hooch and leaves payment. After a time the bootlegger retrieves the money. When I was in college I considered being a park ranger. They live in beauty and have cool hats, but they don’t make much money.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Bugwayjinini

Leech Lake, Minnesota

In Ojibwe, the word for a Bigfoot-like creature is bugwayjinini, meaning Wild Man. The sightings of the creature have been on the increase in the rural areas around Lake Leech. Some estimates are that 300-400, perhaps as many as 500 of them now live in the area.

It is thought that they are migrating toward the east, perhaps to avoid a pending catastrophe. I've seen actual plaster casts of a bugwayjinini footprints, which leaves little doubt that they inhabit this area. The Ojibwe believe the bugwayjinini were put on Earth by the creator to teach the people medicine...they can build shelters and these are often are associated with piles of bones...

Last night I went to the lodge and the owners were apparently out sailing on the lake. I made a list of the items I took, according to a note they left and asked them to add it to my tab:
- 1 bundle firewood
- 1 bottle shiraz
- 1 package marshmellows
- 1 box Honey Maid Graham crackers
- 3 Hersey Bars

The lake is cold, but it's not glacier melt. I could swim in it. They sell leeches as bait here. Some of the huge artificial lures offered for sale imply very big fish live in the lake.

We have been biking every day. There's a paved bike trail that runs nearby. It is built on an abandoned rail line. The RV Park is a combination marina and RVs. It's very seasonal and most people rent spaces by the season. There are only a few spots for transients like us. We have a spot right on the lake. We're day-to-day because their computer is broken and they have no idea whether they've reserved our spot for someone else.

Probably we'll move on tomorrow. I want to go further north and see the Voyaguer National Park up on the border. It's amazing how many National Parks and National Monuments there are that I've never heard of before. I'll always regret missing the Agate Fossil National Monument in Nebraska.

Monday, 16 June 2008

An Inconvenient Truth

Leech Lake, Minnesota

This is a cool place. We're parked on the shore of the third largest lake in Minnesota. The front wheels are practically in the lake, so we can see the waves though the windshield.

We're next to the swimming area, which has an old-fashioned slide, a raft and a sand beach. The bicycles are finally off the back of the RV. The tires are pumped up to 40 PSI and the seats are adjusted. A 100 mile paved trail runs right by the lake. We can rent small boats and canoes and fish for walleyes, bass, perch and pickerel. There'a an Indian casino nearby. The lodge next door sells ice cream. The liquor store is a half mile away. The town of Walker, two miles south, has tennis courts.

I still have fat novels to read by Greg Bear and Norman Mailer. It's not against the rules here to wash your vehicles or change your oil. Most private campgrounds have rules against those activities.

The 500 mile run up here from the Badlands was fraught with errors. First off, I chose rural highways rather than Interstate. Well...DUH!...they don't build campgrounds where RVs don't normally's a summer holiday weekend so the two campgrounds we found were full...and...the longer you drive, the more full the available campgrounds become. So we ended up with no campsite at dusk on a rest area west of Fargo...It was quite nice, really, to split a bottle of Shiraz and some dark chocolate for dinner and then drift off to sleep to the drone of a refrigerated meat truck's generator...

We had a situation on the drive with a severe thunderstorm with one-inch hail, tornadoes and 70 MPH wind gusts..we reversed course for awhile to outrun it then headed back north and followed it down the interstate to Fargo...On this Father's Day, our son turned 39...we're too young to have a son that inconvenient truth...but, happy birthday, Love Bandit...

Saturday, 14 June 2008

They Call It the Badlands

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

It's about 60 miles of low, eroded soft sandstone mountains, interspersed with prairie grass. The campground is maybe half-full.

It's a cool morning at dawn and the birds are singing in the prairie grass. I need to wire up a loose splashpan on the Toyota and change the oil and oil filter on the RV. I bought seven quarts of synthetic 5W-20 back in Hot Springs.

The tow lights on the Toyota stopped working for some reason. My voltmeter shows good signals coming out of the RV. For all of the lights to fail at once, the cause seems likely to a bad ground in the Toyota wiring. There are four diodes controlling the brakes, turn signals and taillights. No way they could all fail at one time.

They have some empty Minuteman ICBM silos just up the road. You can sit in the padded blue chairs in underground launch center and turn one of the launch keys if you want to. The site is just a National Monument now that the cold war is theoretically over. It's closed on weekends.

We went outside the park to the little cowboy town of "Interior" last night. The small grocery store had only one red wine. It was a Gallo Merlot for $5. Not bad. They had a small town jail with iron bars on the windows. A hand-painted sign said Lawrence Welk was there once (in the town, not the jail).

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Guys Don't Ask For Directions

Cave of the Winds National Park

In Hot Springs, South Dakota they are excavating mammoth remains. They are down about 20 feet and so far they've found 56 skeletons. An underground cave collapsed here 27,000 years ago. A sinkhole formed and an artesian warm spring made a slippery trap for wooly and Colombian mammoths. All 56 of the mammoths so far have been young males. Like elephants, mammoths are thought to have had matriarchal societies. These young, inexperienced boys died of starvation or exhaustion after the old girls kicked them out. They died in a trap that lasted about 700 years.

The mammoths died out when a clever little bipedal animal came over the Siberian land bridge and used stone lances to hunt them to extinction. Without people, the mammoths ranged North America for about 200 million years. My first SCUBA dive in 1964 was a search for mastodon and mammoth teeth in the muddy St. Marks river in Florida. The numerous Florida sinkholes lead to underground caverns full of mammoth bones. Flat feet are not ideal for climbing out of water hazards.

The Cave of The Winds National Park is more interesting above ground than below. The park supports a number of pronghorn antelope, buffalo and prairie dogs. The combination of prarie grass and forest is lovely.

The Cave of the Winds has an interesting and unique feature called "boxworks". 95% of the known boxworks in the world are in this cave. Boxworks have no known economic value. So far these caves have 128.47 miles of explored features. There are none of the usual stalagmites, stalagtites or soda straws...only these strange and fragile boxlike features...A young boy named Kyle finds a snake in the grass outside the cave entrance...the natural entrance sucks in or discharges air depending on the air pressure changes that occur outside...The Winds blow in the entrance..a young man named MacDonald explored miles of the cave in the late 1800s with candles and string. This site was named as the 8th National Park by President Theodore was thought to be an ideal area for the nearly extinct buffalo to recover.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

What Have You Accomplished?

Custer, South Dakota

Sixty years ago the Crazy Horse carving was begun in 1948 by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. When finished it will be the largest sculpture in the world, 641 feet wide and 563 feet high. It will be taller than the pyramids and much more enduring, carved as it is from the hardest granite in North America. By comparison, the carvings on nearby Mt. Rushmore would fit into Crazy Horse's head.

The memorial was commissioned by some of the same elderly Oglala Lakota chiefs that rode with Crazy Horse against Custer. Korczak arrived nearly broke and initially lived in a tent nearby. He built 758 steps up the mountain and began removing 80 million tons of granite with a jackhammer and dy
namite. The statue is about 5% complete after sixty years. There is no fixed timetable for completion.

Korczak acquired a used 4,000 pound "Buda" air compressor and ran lines up the mountain to power his jackhammer. The Buda was cranky. One day he climbed down the 758 steps nine times to restart the hand-crank engine. Korczak died in 1982, before even the head fully emerged from the mountain. He left behind a wife and ten children to carry on his work.

This memorial is really for Chief Crazy Horse, not Korczak. Crazy Horse was bayoneted in the back by an American soldier while under a flag of truce. It was one of those "he won the battle and lost the war" stories.

Korczak was fanatic about free enterprise. He turned down several offers of $10 million or more of government assistance, preferring to fund the project from private donations and admission to a visitor center.

It's cold here this year. The temperature gets up to about 52 F. We're staying another day to see the Cave of the Winds National Park, some in situ mammoth skulls down in Hot Springs and maybe the Agate Fossil National Monument in northeast Nebraska. I never even knew we had a National Monument for agate fossils.

There is a lot to see in the Crazy Horse visitor center. They have a fine collection of native art and many photographs, sculptures and paintings.

In nearby Custer State Park we find buffalo and mountain goats. The goats are not native to the area. Six of them were imported in 1924. By 1928, they had all escaped and now there is a herd of about 400 goats living in the "Black Hills". They call it the Black Hills because the predominate tree, the Ponderosa Pine, has a needle with a flat side that doesn't reflect much light. It makes this ancient 150 mile long mountain range appear black from a distance.

We want to see Deadwood and Sturgis before we continue. Deadwood is where Wild Bill Hickok was assassinated. Sturgis is the site of the big motorcycle rally. Somewhere around here is a field called Little Bighorn.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Show Me the Ka

Chugwater, Wyoming

We drove over Cameron Pass yesterday. My GPS said the summit was 10,300 feet. The surrounding mountains still went up another half mile or so.

We found a campground on a river in the Roosevelt National Forest. It was on the eastern slope of the Rockies about 30 miles from Fort Collins. The river was rushing downhill and swollen from the above average snowfall. The river noise was conducive to sleeping. No electricity there, so we played Scrabble after dinner. I added an “A” to “jar” going down and placed a “K” in front of the “A” on a triple letter score. Mrs. Phred challenged the “ka”, of course, but I was a gentleman and failed to point out that an unsuccessful challenge normally requires a turn forfeit. It’s rare that I win against her. Ka is the part of a person that leaves the body after death, according to the old Egyptians.

Our last day in Steamboat included tennis, a ride on the alpine slide called “The Howler”, a two hour raft trip on the Colorado, a visit to a bookstore and then dinner in Glenwood Springs with Kim and Randy. Mrs. Phred met Kim online. Randy is an architect who wants to build his own RV. Kim just won a weight lifting competition. She was the only one entered in her class, but I’m impressed anyway. Randy is 6’-5”, a former Army Ranger. They were interesting, I’m glad we went.

Dinner was at a microbrewery in Glenwood Springs about 125 miles from Steamboat. I ordered a sampler tray of eight beers.

Mrs. Phred drives home from Glenwood Springs. She tends to run the Toyota about 30 MPH faster over the mountain curves than I do, constantly running up and down though the five-speed manual gearbox. I try to read and clutch the sissy bar at the same time.

You remember that heel pain I was telling you about? I went to WebMD online and came up with a diagnosis of plantar facilitis. That’s a problem with the tendon in the arch attached to the heel. It happens to older people who are a little overweight and who play tennis, jog or walk a lot. They suggest ice packs, stretching exercises and a change in activities. For example, one could substitute bicycling for hiking and Scrabble for tennis.

We are in Wyoming today. We want to go to South Dakota and see the Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore and the Cave of the Winds National Park tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get the bikes down off the back of the RV where they’ve been hanging for the last two months and gathering gravel road dust.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Firecloud Endorses Obama

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

The map below is a county-by-county representation of the 2004 American presidential election. The deep red counties went at least 70% republican and the deep blue were 70% democrat. In between are various shades of purple. The map is adjusted for population which accounts for the strange shape.

The Firecloud Report is endorsing Obama over McCain. I am throwing my financial support to Obama and went online this morning to make my contribution. We are set to receive absentee ballots and have switched from the Green Party to yellow-dog Democrat..

Virginia is normally considered a red state, so Obama's choice to launch his general campaign there is a statement about his strategy and optimism.

While there are parallels between 1968 and 2008 (an unpopular war, an unpopular president), there are also distinct differences (an economy in a deflationary housing death spiral, the dollar a joke, rising unemployment, spiraling energy and food prices and credit and financial markets locked up).

In November, we will be able to say to the world, "Hey, Y'all. Look who we just elected."

You have to give the Republican robber barons credit for persuading the poor and the uneducated to consistently vote against their own self interest by creating phony issues like gay marriage. However, as one notable Republican once observed, "You can't fool all the people, all the time."

Friday, 6 June 2008

You Can Leave Your Hat On

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Katie sent me an e-mail and suggested Dr. Scholl's heel pads for the bone spur in my left heel. Katie and I went though Air Force basic training at the same time in the summer of 63 in south Texas. My father and my mother's three brothers got leave in early 1943. By late 1943 my three cousins and I, including Katie, popped out in Ithaca at about the same time; your classic war babies (not boomers). It's nice to have a support group. I think I'm the youngest by a few days.

We went to the top of Storm Mountain today to check out the extensive ski lifts and gondolas. This is one of the premier Colorado ski destinations, along with Aspen and Vail. The town is surrounded by ski trails and ski jumps. As we take the Gondola up, it suddenly shudders to a stop, leaving us swinging at 300 feet. Eventually the cable starts again. I'm reassured somewhat by the Swiss manufacturer.

This hummingbird was up at the Steamboat Lake State Park. It has been raining the last two days, so we didn't do much yesterday aside from the drive up to the park.

One of the things to see in Steamboat is Fish Creek Falls. We went there early before the downtown shops opened. I'm anxious to see the legendary F.W. Light store. Their Stetson hats range from $4.98 to $500.00. They've been selling hats here for 103 years.

They have a rodeo here every Friday and Saturday, starting next week. The alpine slide next to the rodeo grounds descends 400 feet over a 2,400 foot run. It's open tomorrow. You get a little sled and ride a plastic shute down. If you go to fast, your sled leaves the shute. We had thought to leave in the morning, but if we do, I'll never ride the slide. Mrs. Phred and I discuss this and come to the depressing realization that there are many things we'll never see or do. We want it all. We want it now. So we will pull out about noon after tennis and a few rides on the slide in the morning.

So many little time.

Here's my new hat.

Baby, take off your coat...(real slow)
Baby, take off your shoes...(here, I'll take your shoes)
Baby, take off your dress
Yes, yes, yes
You can leave your hat on
You can leave your hat on
You can leave your hat on
-Randy Newman